September 2022 Keeping Connected
When a rabbi offers a traditional Jewish greeting they will often use the Hebrew phrase “B’ruchim Haba-im – Blessed are those who come”… It is easy to use the phrase in a shortcut kind of way without really pausing to think about what those words really mean and express. It is similar to when someone sneezes nearby and you respond, “God bless you.” How many of us are really thinking about what that phrase is actually saying? Are we intentionally asking God to bless the individual who sneezed or are we just parroting a phrase we have heard our whole lives without thinking about the meaning of the words?
Circling back to the phrase, “Blessed are those who come”, I have been thinking about whether people who come to Congregation feel blessed and truly welcomed. At this time of year, in the weeks before the High Holidays, it is a good time to pause and engage in a process called Heshbon Nafesh, which is an accounting of our souls, our actions and our relationships. Although we do this as individuals we can also do this as a community. Which brings me back to the question, “How good a job do we as a community do in helping folks feel welcome and blessed by their engagement and participation in our congregational community?” I do think in many ways we do a good job. For instance a large percentage of our members are intermarried and I believe we are committed to helping all members of our community feel engaged and welcome whether they are Jewish or not.
In other ways, however, I wonder how well we are doing and I don’t want to assume we are doing a good job. Have we set the bar high enough and are we always striving to do better? For instance someone recently asked me whether Congregation Shalom is welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. My initial response is yes. Many of our students and adults identify as LGBTQ+. We have adapted some of our life-cycle ceremonies to help all individuals feel as though they can participate with language and ritual in a way that is personally meaningful. In other ways, however, I wonder whether we really are doing as much as we can. Even something as simple as having a rainbow flag out front of our building has been missing. This summer the board unanimously voted to put up a flag with words expressing the hope and commitment that all are welcome. I hope to have this flag or sign up by the High Holidays.
This message of inclusion, however, needs to stretch out to all areas of our membership. Are we truly inclusive of everyone? What more could we be doing with our words and our actions? How can we become a more affirming congregation? These are questions I have been asking myself and I would like you to take some time to reflect as well. Are there ways we can and should do better? Please reach out and let me know what you think. Would you like to be involved with some type of inclusion committee? Perhaps this would be a short-term effort to think about ways in which we can do more to help everyone who comes through our doors feel blessed. If this is something you would like to be involved with, please reach out to me at email@example.com. I am looking for partners in this endeavor since this is something I cannot do alone.
Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry